Monday, October 16, 2017

Play behavior in spotted hyenas

Play serves a lot of functions for young mammals such as development of motor skills involved in sexual reproduction, hunting, or fighting and development of social bonds or social skills. Most importantly, it's super cute. 

First, the "play face": It's easy to tell apart real aggression from play because hyenas express what I call the "play face". It's the same expression your dog has when it's feeling playful! Play can also be identified by overly exaggerated movements and the absence of aggressive vocalization or aggressive postures. Look for these clues in the photos below!

Object play: Object play is one type of play that involves playing with physical objects, like a stick. Cubs will wrestle with sticks and play catch-me-if-you-can. 

Poop is always great to play with because it smells great. These cubs below are having a poop party and are rolling in fresh elephant poop.

Playing with mom: Mom is one of the first adult hyenas that little cubs play with. Mom is often very tired making the play somewhat one-sided.

Sibling play: Early on, litter-mates show high rates of aggression as they establish dominance. By the time they're brought to the communal den, dominance is usually established and aggression is replaced by play.

Playing with subadults: Subadult hyenas often visit the den and play with the younger cubs. To keep it fair, the subadult often lays on their back and let the younger cubs attack them.

Water play: Even adult hyenas play! Hyenas love to have pool parties and swimming is almost always accompanied by plenty of rough-housing. 

For more photos and videos of hyenas swimming see: "Hyenas LOVE water" and "Splish Splash, I was taking a bath"

Play mounting: This a common behavior seen during play and helps male cubs practice mating behaviors.

Playing with your cohort: These newly den-independent cubs meet up for some play time. 

Playing with cognition apparatuses: Little cubs love to play with the box even if they're too small to open it. Climbing on top of it or inside of it are favorites.

The white tube is hard to resist playing with. This often means several "mistrials" while the hyena grabs the tube and runs around with it (instead of eating the meat from inside). Usually if I'm patient and let them get all their plays out they eventually calm down and participate in the trials like good little hyenas.

Grad student Tracy Montgomery is investigating play as part of her dissertation research. Check out her website HERE!

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